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Firefighters break with Labour
Time For A New Workers' Party
"OUR CHOICE is whether to stay in the Labour Party, docile and tame, or leave and fight like tigers for what these class traitors have denied us...
"The future starts here and the future starts now...
"You have the power - you can do it."
With these words, Tony Maguire from the Northern Ireland Fire Brigades Union (FBU) moved the historic proposal for the union to disaffiliate from the Labour Party at its conference last week in Southport.
Ken Smith reports from the FBU conference
The debates on pay and the union's links to the Labour Party dominated the conference.
Above: Firefighters in November 2002 on their 2002 - 2003 national strike (Photo Paul Mattsson)
On the link with Labour, the argument centred on whether the union should continue to affiliate to the Labour Party at a reduced level while, at the same time, supporting other political organisations, a position similar to the rail union RMT's. This was proposed by the union's executive.
The alternative was immediate disaffiliation, in a composite motion proposed by the Northern Ireland and Strathclyde FBU regions.
The composite proposing complete disaffiliation was passed by 35,105 to 14,611.
The debate had added significance after the decision of the Communication Workers' Union conference the previous day to immediately cease funding Labour if the party did not give a commitment in its election manifesto to keep the postal service as a public enterprise.
Moving the motion for disaffiliation, Tony Maguire said: "Our party, the party that we nurtured through the Thatcher years and the party that we gave hundreds of millions of pounds to has stabbed us not in the back but in the heart. Every single FBU branch in Northern Ireland has told us to put clear blue water between us and the sycophantic, cronyistic ideologues who call themselves the Labour Party."
Tony, a member of the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Ireland, received the only standing ovation of the conference after he had finished his speech.
Speaking to the socialist after the debate Tony Maguire said:
"We should be humble in the context of history. This is only one moment in history. The people who established the Labour Party must have wrestled with the same birth pangs of creating a new movement as we are. We shouldn't be so arrogant as to assume that when workers created the Labour Party they got it absolutely right. Now the whole issue needs revisiting."
These decisions by the FBU, CWU and RMT have historic significance and show a small part of the intense anger of workers at New Labour and the fact that we are "feeding the hand that bites us" through our trade unions. Socialist Party members in the FBU, RMT and other unions will be arguing for the calling of a cross-union conference of elected delegates representing rank and file members, to discuss how to build a new workers' party worthy of the name.
In The Socialist 26 June 2004:
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